What impressed me most about Melbourne is how incredibly family-friendly the city is, in terms of activities and their general attitude to kids.
My Australian friends tell me that Melbourne is more laid-back than Sydney, and so is more welcoming of children in places like nice restaurants.
Our biggest take out after a few days there is that days are short (even though the sun sets past 8pm in the summer most activities wrap by 5pm), so start early and end early.
This can be a little challenging if you’re traveling from South East Asia where Melbourne is 3 or more hours ahead, so my suggestion is not to plan anything the first morning (Bubu had to be roused at 9am for the itinerary when he usually wakes up at 7am) and ease into the schedule over the next couple of days, but definitely aim to start early like 9am and you can have an early dinner (which is also more convenient as it’s less crowded) and put the little ones to bed by 8pm, so they can be fresh as daisies for the next day!
This is our review of some of the top family experiences in the city, what Bubu enjoyed the most, and in my next post, I will share our dining and hotel reccomendations, the full itinerary and more family travel tips (like what to do if there’s a two hour wait at Customs when you get off the plane).
I planned the itinerary so there are usually at least two back-to-back activities on the itinerary, all catered for shorter transport time, and pairing things that are nearby for convenience.
We got around by driving and with GPS, it’s actually really easily to navigate around Melbourne. Car rental was very affordable, less than $500 for the whole 8 days (but adding on the two car seats almost doubled the rental price).
Okay, let’s go!
1) Collingwood Children’s Farm & Abbotsford Convent (Weekend Market)
What’s awesome about Collingwood Farm is that it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Melbourne, which is great. What’s not so great is the rather underwhelming collection of animals – some chicken, a few goats and a milk cow – were the main farmyard stars that we encountered.
The recommended highlight online is the 10am cow-milking session where kids get to have a hands-on experience milking a real cow! You can also have a fresh farm breakfast and explore the farm where they have chickens, goats, cows and a cool (don’t pet him, he’s violent) cat.
SO! Bubu hated the cow-milking. He fussed about sitting outdoors in the sun, freaked out that there were flies everywhere (why does no one ever mention in all the travel articles online that Melbourne is fly-infested in the summertime!)
Clearly, not all kids are cut out for farm life.
I’ve still included Collingwood farm as I can see why some kids could probably enjoy this, but the real highlight wasn’t the farm – which was still worth a visit, the little cafe is recommended over the actual farm (great coffee and fresh breakfast), but Abbortsford Convent – a short walk next door is where he really enjoyed himself!
On weekends, there’s a craft and fashion market (I love the Retrobub stall with super cute handmade onesies, hoodies and Ts), live jazz music,and everyone just sprawled out on the grass and chillaxing in the sun
Brunch was excellent, we had burgers, ribs, chocolate cake, lemon tart and really good breakfast pastries. Our friends who lived in Melbourne brought us here, and I would definitely recommend it too.It is worth making the trip to visit both Collingwood and Abbotsford as they are just side by side, and only 10-15 minutes drive out from the city. If we lived in Melbourne we would probably make regular visits to Abbotsford for its great family-friendly environment and weekend market set in a lovely cluster of buildings, formerly a convent, I would presume.
2) Diamond Valley Miniature Railway & Montsalvat Artist Colony (Eltham)
Which little boy doesn’t love Thomas the Train? We decided to make his train fantasies come to life by taking him to Diamond Valley Railway. This cool miniature railway only opens on Sundays – check out their schedule on their website, and is run by a team of passionate volunteers. Located in Eltham, about 30 minutes from central Melbourne, you ride on mini trains on a track that takes about 12 minutes to complete. At only $3 per ride (and a reasonable 15-20 minute queue each time), Bubu loved it so much we had to ride twice!
After two rounds on the trains, we headed to Montsalvat, an artist’s colony in Eltham located just 5 minutes from Diamond Valley Railway. Open seven days a week, this charming European style colony created in the 1940s had more ducks, geese (and even peacocks) than Collingwood, and Bubu enjoyed it much more than the farm!
To my disappointment, we arrived at 4.45pm and found the place closing for the day (hence my tip to start the day earlier as many places and attractions wrap up at 5pm). There was still fun to be had – tailing the peacocks and geese, and exploring the picturesque grounds (a favorite for wedding shoots) even though we weren’t able to have any wine or coffee as the restaurant on the premises was closing.
Baby Jake in his farm-inspired OOTD.
Our verdict for Eltham: The Diamond Valley Railway is a delight for little ones. Kids older than six might find it a little boring, but it was perfect for toddlers. The train even goes through two dark tunnels for a little thrill! Montsalvat is worth the stopover if you’re already in Eltham, you’ll get beautiful photos for your holiday album.
3) Puffing Billy Railway (Belgrave)
This was hands-down mommy’s favorite day out! The Puffing Billy steam train station is located in Belgrave, about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne city, and has close to hourly departures to Lakeside (about one hour away) and Gembrook (about 90 minutes each way). Online reviews shared that Gembrook was probably a more bustling place to visit, but given that you’re traveling with little ones, Lakeside is probably a more ideal stopover, as the journey by train is the main highlight of the day out, and not so much the destination.
With a super friendly crew (and an amiable Station Master who is used to being asked if he’s the Fat Controller) , the kids were welcomed for photo opps and the train engineers even gave Bubu a chance to climb into the train driver’s cabin, he really enjoyed his day out!
This is how you’re supposed to ride the Puffing Billy- with your legs hanging off the the side of the train!
The train passed farms and forests – a pretty journey in great weather! I’m told it’s not as pleasant in winter time so I would probably save this for warmer weather.
There’s not a whole lot to do at Lakeside – no lovely little cafes, more just a stopover canteen selling sandwiches and some hot food, but you can pick up iced coffee and ice creams (lifesaver), or pack your own picnic for outdoor dining.
There is a small lake with some paddle boats, and a kids playground which Bubu really enjoyed. The stopover is about an hour long, so we were mostly killing time until we could get back on the train. This little city slicker actually asked me for coins when he saw this ride haha!
What an awesome day out – It may not be as exciting for older kids, but what a special treat it was for a two year old, it was like his Thomas the Train fantasies come true! Tip: Bring along your own Thomas toys- they sell them at the station for a premium, and we were coerced into buying one for our over-excited toddler.
4) Werribee Open Range Zoo
There are three zoos in Melbourne, you probably could do just one or two. We chose Werribee because they had a newly launched Toddler Trail program that took place with advance bookings on Tuesdays and Friday’s only (you can call in to book), and besides the safari pictures looked like awesome fun!
We then boarded an open-sided safari bus for a private tour of the open range zoo.
At first he hated it! There were the usual flies, strong wind, and flying sand and he refused to wear his sunglasses so got sand in his eyes and was very upset (Tip: bring little sunglasses to protect your toddler’s eyes from the flying sand)
Our friend and his daughter have a close encounter with a curious giraffe.
He did warm up by the end, although he was very happy to finally get off the safari car, and made a beeline for…..
… A mechanical car.
The highlight of our visit to Werrobee was the mechanical car (!!), and the Ranger Kids Play Area. There was a helicopter there (which he got so excited about he fell down its steps twice) along with dress-up costumes, large stuffed animals to play with and a turtle enclosure.
Ranger Bubu and Scout Nicole on the lookout for animals to rescue! We didn’t stay very long to explore the zoo as the blistering sun, dry heat and summer flies made it rather unpleasant for the toddlers. The safari drive and the Ranger Kids play areas were the definite highlights. You can complete this zoo in a half day or less, planning another activity into the day’s itinerary if you wish.
5) Yarra Valley Day Trip
There’s a lot to do in beautiful Yarra Valley, including hot air balloon rides, river cruises, wine yard visits and so much more. But we decided to only do a day trip, and this is what we covered.
We started with a visit to the Healsville Animal Sanctuary, on a mission to get up close with a Koala Bear! To do this you can pre-book a Magic Moment with the zoo, and for $12, you can have an up-close experience with this cuddly marsupial! You’re not allowed to touch or carry them, but hey – I had my hands full anyway!
You can also get up close to dingos and wombats and other Australian wildlife, but my little city slicker wasn’t enjoying the heat (and flies) and clamored to go back to the van, so it was a really short visit for us. Next we headed out to Coombe Farm at the Melba Estate for lunch. There are many gorgeous vineyards and wineries that you can visit in this area – like De Bortoli and the Chandon Estate, we decided on a friend’s recommendation to try Coombe at Melba Estate. It was a beautiful setting, excellent food and the kids enjoyed having lots of space to run and explore.
Wine-tasting at the Bar, followers by yummy lunch.
Post-lunch, we drop in at the Yarra Glen Adventure Playground for half an hour of play and exploration… Which was great fun for the kids – big and small!
Dads having fun!
After the activity break, we head to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, one or the area’s top attractions, to stuff ourselves again!
Lots of beautiful open space and greenery to run around in!
6) Melbourne Museum & Royal Botanic Gardens
Last up, two of the city’s top attractions. We didn’t get to cover them properly because our toddler decided he hated dinosaur bones, and the flies drove us out of the Royal Botanic Gardens…
Next, we took a 5 minute drive to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we had lunch at Jardin Tan (which I think just means “Garden Tan”) a Vietnamese cafe – probably owned by some guy with last name Tan- set in a glass conservatory inside the garden.
I’ve heard that the Vietnamese food in Melbourne is very very good, but the fare at Jardin Tan was underwhelming, and just way too salty. The fried chicken was inedible, the best dish was the rice paper roll. Mediocre food notwithstanding, the cafe was still a decent place to have lunch if you want something with a pretty ambience, and very nearby to the Children’s Garden.
Post-lunch, I tried to coax the little man into coming down from his pram and exploring the children’s garden – no luck, the heat and flies made him grumpy. Knowing now about the fly situation, I would have bought a fly net for the pram with me, even if it made me look like a silly tourist (because my friends who live there said the locals aren’t bothered by the flies and I would risk looking uncool if I had a fly cover) – screw looking cool, give me the fly cover any day!
I’ll get round to working on my next post on Melbourne which talks about some dining options, fringe activities and more kid-friendly travel tips. Up next!
Leaving you with a gratuitous image of my sweet baby Jake xxx